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The Ciguapa Speaks: Dominican Women in the 21st 
Century 



Marianela Medrano-Marra, PhD 



As with many other indigenous cultures, the feminine was an essential and equal partner 
with the masculine in the Taino tradition. Tamos trace their genesis to the union of a male 
God named Yucahu Maorocoti and a fertility Goddess named Atabey. Other female Taino 
deities include Itiba Cahubaba, Mama Jicotea or Caguama, Guabonito, and Guabancex 
(Arrom, 1975). From this record, we can deduce that the feminine had a significant role 
in the formation of the sense of self of our indigenous people. Also typical of other 
indigenous cultures, colonization fragmented the Taino holistic sense of self, but if we 
draw on our ancestral history, we can restore our wholeness.[l] 

In many Dominican families, the stories of Ciguapas have been told from generation to 
generation. My paternal grandfather said that the Ciguapas would eat the crops of farmers 
who were not invested in doing good deeds for their community. He described the 
Ciguapas as women who would come in the middle of the night to seduce men. They had 
colorful long hair, hanging down to the earth, and their feet pointed backwards. Men 
were unable to follow a Ciguapa back into the forest, even if they tried, because their 
backward feet left tracks pointed in the wrong direction. [2] 

In the territory of the soul, or psyche, and the differentiation of the self, the Ciguapa is a 
perfect metaphor to represent the leap into authentic selfhood, the discovery of who we 
are. As noted, the myth goes that the Ciguapa is a magical being who men follow into the 
woods. Following the Ciguapa symbolizes entering the land of no return, embracing 
death. Despite this threat of death, men pursue the beautiful feminine awaiting at the 
other end. In the countryside, but more so in the Cibao region (a fertile valley in the north 
of the country) of the Dominican Republic, people warn that if one encounters a Ciguapa 
and looks into her eyes, the person will forever be under her power. [3] 

Two important concepts surface here. First, the patriarchal, inherited male fear of being 
transformed by the female; or, to put it in the language of Woodman (1990), "we come 
face to face with what is involved in a man's response to his own inner feminine as 
anything other than a threat to his hard-won masculinity. . . The male fear of the feminine 
is deeply rooted in the dark mystery of the female body, a mystery women have secretly 
worshiped for centuries in rites traditionally identified with underground caves and 
equated with the Mother Goddess who in Christianity become the Mother of God 
himself (p.20). Men are socialized to see the female energy as threatening. [4] 

Second, the Ciguapa myth makes us aware that both men and women fear the feminine, 
but for different reasons; women too fear the feminine consciousness. Women are 
biologically similar to the Ciguapa, and that likeness can lead to what Woodman calls 
women's "temptation of body power." Therefore, in many cases women are trapped in a 



female body but lack the consciousness of the feminine; encountering the Ciguapa within 
is a way for women to start the journey back home toward authentic selfhood. The 
concept of looking at the Ciguapa in her eyes and dying or falling under her power could 
suggest the surrender to the Divine Mother. This is the interpretation I favor in my 
intention to reclaim the Divine Mother within the Taino tradition. [5] 

As an archetype, the Ciguapa embodies the need of the psyche or soul for liberation, and 
at the same time, protection by embracing a secure sense of self. She can represent both 
transformation and safety. Like a great Mother, she settles in the depths of the 
unconscious. When the self/child feels unprotected, she flies to the forest, back to the 
womb, back to the Cave of the Jagua where, according to Stevens-Arroyo (2006) and 
others, the Tainos originated. For Dominican women and men, the Ciguapa is a mirror 
reflecting back a free spirit and the inalienable right of self-expression. [6] 

Despite the crucial influence of women in the Taino society, it is disheartening that the 
female contributions in preserving those influences are so far in the background that they 
are almost imperceptible. I am committed to a scholarship devoted to restoring the 
dualistic nature of our essence, and how our history was made by the contributions of 
both male and female forces. In this, I am also committed to inviting other women on the 
journey with me. We need to reconstruct our history in a way that is not fractional, but 
whole, and complete. Both women and men have historically failed, for the most part, to 
direct attention to that balance. [7] 

Patriarchy is about denying women as equals, as counterparts, and that is why it is 
essential that the feminist movement be oriented toward recognizing the union of male 
and female so as to not err in the same manner. Again, in the words of Woodman (1990): 
"In forging a partnership of equals between the sexes — a partnership that belongs to the 
new creation — we need to be very sure whether we are negotiating a partnership as 
enemies whom our inherited prejudices have taught us to fear or as bride and bridegroom, 
each coming forth to greet the other" (14). What is needed is a resurgence of both 
feminine and masculine consciousness, in which the feminine recovers her inherent light, 
shedding the dullness and fatality through which history has presented her, and the male 
consciousness gets stripped of its aggressive mask. Most importantly, the projection of 
God or Goddesses needs to be experienced through our relationship with the world in all 
its integrity — mind, body and spirit. [8] 

Dominican women need to reclaim their position as counterparts of their world, and 
scholarship must portray their contribution to the making of what is known as the 
Dominican Republic, or Quisqueya. We are not, and never were, passive spectators of 
our world, but an essential part of the energy that builds it. [9] 

In the next section, I will draw on the voices of women who joined me in reclaiming the 
feminine images that authentically represent us as women and as generators of a political 
consciousness that makes us visible once again. [10] 

Gender Roles Yesterday and Today 



Women's roles in Taino society were considerably varied and all social and political 
positions, including those of political leaders and artisans, were open to them depending, 
as with the men, on their social standing. Tamos were matrilineal — status, name, and 
property were inherited from one's mother and grandmother (Keegan, 1997). The pre- 
Columbian Tamos left art and artifacts behind that indicate women were key figures in 
their society. Historians have failed to highlight the influence of women in the Taino 
world, a failure that has translated into a modern society that, for the most part, also 
denies the influence of women in Dominican political, social, and economic development 
(Medrano-Marra, 2007). The state of affairs in today's Dominican Republic shows a clear 
gender battle, which accounts for the male fear of being captured in the enchantment of 
the Ciguapa, the one who comes at night and steals them away, both seducing and 
abandoning them. For the male, it constitutes a moral obligation to safeguard their 
"maleness" and not to let the Ciguapa seduce them into the "feminine." What will 
transform us as a society will be the reintegration of the "feminine consciousness" in both 
men and women. [1 1] 

The Taino female deities were lost in a patriarchal world imposed by the Spanish 
colonizers, who brutally forced their monotheistic and masculine religion upon the 
indigenous people of the island. Colonization fragmented us on many planes but 
primarily on the spiritual plane. In the interests of exploiting the resources of the land, the 
Tamos were enslaved, and any resistance to the patriarchal religion of the colonizers was 
brutally and violently suppressed. [12] 

The Taino cosmogony encountered by the Spaniards upon their arrival was strong and 
thriving; it is only logical to infer that there was great trauma suffered by this people after 
their subjective world collapsed under the foreign intrusion (Medrano-Marra, 2007). The 
main interpretative conclusion reached in my study was that when women explored and 
assumed the knowledge of a Divine Feminine within their culture they felt empowered 
and that such empowerment restores wholeness. To be whole we must integrate the 
male/female energies that make us. True balance comes from the recognition of our 
multiplicity. [13] 

Such trauma, such fragmentation opens a new inquiry: how is this trauma still impacting 
the collective unconscious of Dominicans, and, more specifically, of Dominican women? 
In pursuing this question, I conducted a study during 2006 and 2007 in which eleven 
women joined with me in attempting to address this inquiry. [14] 

My Study of the Divine Feminine in the Taino Culture: Deconstructing the 
Ciguapa Archetype 



I invited the eleven women who took the journey with me to seek the archetypes 
underlying the Taino culture. An archetype, as defined by C G. Jung, is a motif or symbol 
of our world that repeats itself in our fantasies, dreams, deliria or delusions. The 
archetype is not determined by its content — it is not an unconscious idea, but could be 



determined by its form, as it speaks to our consciousness. The Ciguapa, as pointed out 
before, is seen as an archetype of the self.[15] 

During my research, I watched in amazement as my coresearchers turned into tricksters 
or Ciguapas seeking their own internal balance, and reclaiming their innate ability to be 
wild and highly intuitive — to be La Ciguapa, that woman who lives high in the mountain 
regions. As I pointed out above, la Ciguapa has backward feet so that humans cannot 
follow her footprints, which also makes her into a trickster, who stands at the threshold of 
awareness and insight (Anderson, 1989). As a Ciguapa or trickster in my tradition, I gaze 
into the capacity of women to stand at the threshold of awareness and insight, and to 
penetrate the mysterious world of the ancestral mothers, in search of a road map for 
today's complex world. [16] 



Personal Empowerment 

Personal empowerment is as much about exercising political power as it is about 
navigating the waters of spirituality and finding one's soul and purpose. Personal 
empowerment is not possible without a sense of self. I agree with Cushman (1995) 
that: [17] 

The self is configured in ways that both reflect and influence the 
very foundations of social life and everyday living. Without the 
guidance set by a particular set of ideas about what it means to be 
human, political conflict would be impossible. The shape of the 
self in a particular era indicates which goals individuals are 
supposed to strive toward, and how individuals are to comport 
themselves while striving; it indicates what is worthwhile, who is 
worthwhile, and which institutions determine worthwhileness. In 
other words, the self struggles. Once the self is set, the rest of the 
struggles begin to appear in the clearing: they materialize, (p. 332) 
[18] 

In this sense, during my study of Taino spirituality, personal empowerment was measured 
by our level of involvement in discussions of both the individual and society at large, and 
was strongly related to growth in relationships (Baker-Miller & Pierce-Stiver, 1997). The 
development of empowering and growth-fostering relationships is linked to the 
framework of the society from which the individual operates. The frame work of the 
Taino society was more conducive to growth-fostering relationships because it was a 
more egalitarian one. My study of the Divine Feminine in the Taino tradition was about 
creating relationships, among us and between us and the Divine Feminine, and to see how 
building relationships impacted our sense of self. [19] 

The women who took part in my research revealed in their writings a notion of 
themselves as tricksters or Ciguapas, and in so doing they recognized the self as it 



reflected in the Ciguapa archetype. Their writings show commitment to personal and 
societal changes, which reflect their political and spiritual consciousness. What follows is 
my translation into English of their original Spanish. To abide with the ethics of 
confidentiality I will use only the pseudonyms each participant chose and which are 
references to their Taino heritage. [20] 

Solenodonte, chose her name after the Taino Solenodonte, a small shrew-like mammal 
with a long nose that eats ants. Solenodonte is a 42 year-old anthropologist and college 
professor, with specialization in gender studies. She describes her participation in the 
study on Taino spirituality as follows: [21] 

For the first time, I have found a group of women who are seeking 
to reencounter our ancestors to reveal the energy of the earth in 
totally different directions. I found the possibility to express myself 
openly, without fear and without feeling pressure around me. 
Spending time with women who are Ciguapas, wolves, and 
without fear, was stupendous. The spiritual experience of having 
been touched in my neck and head while awake and in daylight 
confronted me with the dilemma if whether I was hallucinating or 
if I truly had connected with my ancestors. [22} 

Anacacuya is a 62 year-old writer and librarian who has written stories to reconstruct 
Taino mythologies. In Taino language her name means the "best cocoa." In a 
retrospective piece she juxtaposes la Ciguapa to her experience as a modern professional 
woman and writer: [23] 

What part of me is a Ciguapa? Ciguapas are creatures of the dense 
forest. I love the forest, I am an empiric botanist, and perhaps I 
should have been an archeologist-botanist, because I am 
passionate, for as far as I can remember, to discover new 
vegetation forms. My garden is an object of criticism from my 
neighbors, because I like the vines, the plants, the wild rose bushes 
that can grow wild. As a girl I used to play all day long in the 
cocoa field, and as I grew older, developed the gusto for hiding 
there, in the cocoa tree. I used to get lost from my family for hours. 
It was there I learned my love for silence and contemplation in 
solitude. The thing is that today, searching for the part of me where 
the Ciguapa still lives, I feel free from guilt when I accept that yes, 
I enjoy going out, without offering any explanation, so nobody can 
find me if I don't want them to. That is why retreats make me 
happy, the farther away, and the higher the mountain, the better. 
The Ciguapa in me starts embodying me, her being inhabits me, 
the air penetrates me, opening crevices, obstructed channels, the 
energy flows, moves, moves me, I shake myself, in perfect flow. I 
feel part of everything and from that feeling I speak. [24] 



In her poem "To Find Essence of the Ciguapa" Anacacuya writes: 

It is not be afraid of the shadows following 

It is to leave tracks of mystery 

always returning 

getting lost in time 

To be a woman 

hear the earth's heart 

while close to the limbs of a tree 

It is being a woman 

without the inriri tied to the body 

and as God be who she is 

The one who was seen and who exists 

without resemblance 

without tides 

without descendents 

always surprising history 

the Ciguapa.[25] 

Pitajaya, chose her name after an indigenous fruit. She is a 54 year-old lawyer and 
educator who writes: 

I identify with the Ciguapa, although sometimes I go back and hide within like a turtle 
when something goes wrong, but instantly, I realize what I am doing and go back to the 
spirit of La Ciguapa. [26] 

La Cacica, whose name means "female chief," is a 47 year-old musician, autodidactic 
and pioneer in the study of Taino rhythms. She has traveled throughout South America, 
Europe, the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world. She reflects on the 
Ciguapa archetype through a poem: 

La Ciguapa 

I am a wild woman 

of hills and rivers. 

Human fruit 

of nature. 

I go alone through the forest 

gathering food. 

On the earth I find food for my body 

in the air I find food for my spirit. 

I am scared by the world's cruelty 

that is why I am elusive 

and confuse others with my walk. 

I don't have a companion 

I steal men from the hills 

to procreate. 



I am free, 

I am part of the landscape, 

I am rock, water fountain, 

plants and animals. 

I am beautiful and mysterious, 

Unreachable, sovereign, 

and untamable. [27] 

Ciguita (indigenous bird), is 39, a psychologist, who was born in the Cibao region but 
lives in the capital where she works in the mental health field, specifically helping 
women redefine themselves, reflects: 

I assume myself a Ciguapa, because I am free and I dare to do 
things. I am a Ciguapa because it has been difficult to let a man 
trap me. In the world of sex, I am wild, I get excited with odors, 
the mountains, the rain, and I love to hug trees. Nature offers the 
perfect combination, the contact with the tree, the scent of the 
countryside, rubbing bodies against each other. The contact with 
trees, with the earth, gives me palpitations, my breath accelerates 
and my conscience is altered. My chakras open. I am a Ciguapa 
because I also love to be alone. My autonomy and independence, 
even though they are relative, are signs of my Ciguapa nature. I 
resist any imposition (Ciguita, personal correspondence, 
December, 10, 2006).[28] 

La Curandera, whose name means healer, a 38 year-old, was born in Santo Domingo, 
graduated with a bachelors in business administration, to then study flower therapy, 
Reiki, and massage therapy. She is the mother of two children and owns a salon spa. She 
states: 

In thinking about the Ciguapa in me, words such as "fierce, 
surviving, instinct, ability to detect danger, living in communion 
with others, self-perception, and freedom" come to mind. [29] 

Ciguaparrasta was the youngest of the co-researchers. Only 26, she was born in the Cibao 
region. She is a singer of the Taino tradition and currently works with children in the 
countryside of La Vega. 

The reencounter with my feminine side reflects in the way I 
respond to difficult situations now. This week, I was able to solve 
problems that before I would just not even try, afraid of losing the 
battle before starting it. Now, in the last 2 months, I realized that 
spirituality is not about a mysterious world in which I have to 
submerge myself to discover the indescribable. No, now my 
spiritual world is as real as everything material. [30] 



Violeta, chose her name after the flower. She is 40, a computer engineer and a single 
mother of two boys, she reflects: 

I identify with the archetypes of la Ciguapa and the Turtle or 
Jicotea; with the Ciguapa, because she represents freedom, 
wildness, silence, love, pleasure, and defiance. With the Turtle, 
because I am slow in doing things but very assertive in taking my 
own decisions, regardless of others' approval. [31] 

Campeche, 41, chose her name after the town of Campeche. She is a single mother of a 
son, with a background in business administration. She works extensively with women 
and with gender issues. She boldly states "throughout the study, I learned to connect with 
the land, and I found a new image to represent myself, I am a Ciguapa."[32] 

Beyra, 38, chose her name after the Goddess Atabeyra. She is an actress, dancer, yoga 
master and theater director and producer. With her parents, in 1999, she founded a 
cultural center in the heart of Santiago, where students have the opportunity to explore 
different corporal and spiritual practices. She asserts: 

I want to understand my spirituality and my femininity. At school 
we learned about Greek Goddesses, and we tried to understand the 
beauty secrets of the Egyptian women, the struggle for women's 
rights in America in the 1920s, but our history is forgotten — we 
don't learn about how these first inhabitants lived. To learn how 
they lived, what kind of things they respected and why, what were 
their pains and their joys, to what did they sing and how did they 
sing it, is not taught. The more I learn about them, the more I learn 
about myself.[33] 

How the Ciguapa Empowers Us 



As an archetype of liberation and encounter with the self, La Ciguapa has impacted us 
greatly. For instance, the coresearcher who used the pseudonym of Ciguapa, chose such 
because she felt it really depicted the transformation that she underwent throughout the 
research. Ciguapa is a 57 year-old college professor and gay-lesbian activist. During an 
Areito (Taino celebratory ritual) she depicted her transformation by jumping out from 
behind a tree to show her emergence as a Ciguapa, or woman who is no longer willing to 
live according to the status quo but who is seeking to find her own definition of self. She 
writes: [34] 

The Ciguapa in me starts embodying me, her being inhabits me, 
the air penetrates me, opening crevices, obstructed channels, the 
energy flows, moves, moves me, I shake myself, in perfect flow. I 
feel part of everything and from that feeling I speak (La Ciguapa, 
personal correspondence, December 8, 2006) [35] 



My coresearchers all agreed that the Ciguapa is an archetype that speaks to their 
perception of being an empowered woman. When asked why the Ciguapa had such an 
impact on them, they all reported feeling truly mirrored by the Ciguapa's love for 
freedom and for this archetype's disdain for the status quo. Even the three participants for 
whom the Ciguapa was less well-known reported finding affirmation and validation in 
this archetype. My research started a dialogue that I believe needs to continue. [3 6] 

Where are the Ciguapas in the 21st Century? They are in colleges and universities, they 
are sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, artists, writers, mothers, lovers, and 
community activists seeking to restore their places in the making of tomorrow. [37] 

Feminine and male energies make us whole, and the absence of either renders us 
incomplete. The European colonization established the masculine as dominant and the 
feminine as subordinate, severing a sacred relationship. The separation of energies 
constituted a trauma that has permeated our collective unconscious. The Ciguapa relates 
to the female energy running away, and yet coming back at night, in the dark, trying to 
find her place. I propose here that both men and women need to reencounter their 
Ciguapa nature to restore balance in our modern society. [3 8] 

Spirituality and politics are not separate. I understand spirituality as all that is inside and 
outside us. With that in mind, I am going to depart from the spiritual background of my 
people, to understand how ill politics have buried women's contributions and most 
importantly how healthy politics can restore our place in history. Recognizing that the 
personal is political has been the key to women's advancement worldwide. Reclaiming 
our dualistic nature, our female/male force empowers us. Taino sacred practices can help 
Dominican women and men decipher a different way of being in their environment — 
more self-confident, empowered, harmonious, and intuitive, like the Ciguapa 
archetype. [39] 



References 

Anderson, R. (2001). Embodied writing and reflections on embodiment. Journal of 
Transpersonal Psychology, 33 (2), 83-96. 

Arrom, J. J. (1975). Mitologia y artes prehispdnicas de las antillas [Mythology and arts 
of the pre-Hispanic Antilles] (2nd ed.). Mexico City, Mexico: Veintiuno Editores. 

Baker-Miller, J. & Pierce-Stiver, I. (1997). The healing connection: How women form 
relationships in therapy and life. Boston: Beacon Press. 

Cushman, P. (1995). Constructing the self constructing Amercia: A cultural history of 
psychotherapy. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. 



Keegan, W. (1997). No man (or woman) is an island: Elements of Taino organization. In 
S. M. Wilson (Ed.), The indigenous people of the Caribbean (pp. 109-1 17) Gainesville: 
University Press of Florida. 

Laszlo, V. S. (Ed.). (1990). The basic writings ofC. G. Jung. (R.F.C. Hull, Trans.). 
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Medrano-Marra, M. (2007). Empowering Dominican women: The divine feminine in 
Taino spirituality. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Institute of Transpersonal 
Psychology, Palo Alto, CA. 

Woodman, M. (1990) The ravaged Bridegroom: Masculinity in women. Toronto: Inner 
City Books. 



Article submitted: 22 May 2008 

Reviews completed: 12 June 2008 

Published: 27 July 2009 



Author 



Marianela Medrano-Marra is a writer, transpersonal psychologist and keeper of the Taino 
tradition. Her doctoral dissertation studied the spirituality of the Taino people. More 
specifically, her research was an inquiry into the elements of Taino spirituality that can 
sustain women's self-perception and enhance their self-esteem. She worked with 1 1 
Dominican women who came from a variety of backgrounds — writers, psychologists, 
anthropologists, musicians, educators, and so on. The main interpretative conclusion they 
reached was that when women explored and assumed the knowledge of a Divine 
Feminine within their culture they felt empowered. 

Citation 

Please cite this article as follows: Medrano-Marra, Marianela. (2009). The Ciguapa 
Speaks: Dominican Women in the 21st Century. KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean 
Amerindian History and Anthropology [On-line Journal]. Available at: 
http://kacikejournal.wordpress.com/marra [Date of access: Day, Month, Year]. [39 par.] 
© 2009. Marianela Medrano-Marra. All rights reserved.